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This 10th episode in the season of “Research and Considerations for Sexual Assault Cases” in the National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ’s) Just Science podcast series is an interview with both Dr. Rachel Lovell, researcher and professor at Cleveland State University, and Mary Weston, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney and Director of the Cold Case Unit at the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office (Ohio), who discuss the complexities associated with “crossover” offending in sexual assault cases.
One of the issues discussed in the interview is whether serial rapists have a consistent pattern of criminal behavior. Based on Dr. Lovell’s research and Mary Weston’s experience as a prosecutor, they agree that serial rapists rarely maintain habitual behaviors, making it more difficult to trace separate rape offenses to the same offender. Based on their research and experience, they discuss why offenders may vary their criminal behaviors in committing the same type of offense and why this has implications for the review of a backlog of rape kits. Rachel Lovell argues for testing all sexual assault kits (SAKs), because this provides a more complete picture of cases that have matching DNA, which is necessary to identify difference in cases committed by the same person, as well as to be skeptical that similar case characteristics are committed by the same person when there is no substantiating DNA evidence. Even if a CODIS hit does not produce a named offender, the investigation is helped by the recognition that the same offender has engaged in differing behavioral patterns. It is also helpful to theorize and test why known offenders engage in varied behaviors and decision-making when selecting victims and committing their crimes.